I'm not sure which is more breathtaking: the Sea-to-Sky Highway from Vancouver to Whistler, B.C. -- a road that curls along the Coast Mountain Range just above Howe Sound -- or Whistler itself, site of the 2010 Winter Olympics. Fortunately, you don't have to choose. Fly into Vancouver, then drive 90 miles up the winding coast road to Whistler Village, nestled among the steepest vertical drops in North America. That Whistler won the Olympic games says all you need to know about the quality of skiing. But the resort is no slouch in the summer -- and you won't wait on lift lines to ride to the summit.
For those who adore the outdoors, there's plenty to do in the off-season. In fact, it was trout fishing in nearby Alta Lake that first lured tourists to the area in the 1920s. Not until the 1960s did developers decide to create an Olympic-quality ski community at Whistler. Today, paved walking and bike trails abound. Canoe trips on nearby rivers or lakes offer vistas of snow-capped peaks. Take the gondola up Whistler Mountain, where you can climb a little farther to view glaciers or munch a burger at the Roundhouse Lodge while overlooking a dazzling mountain panorama.
The more adventurous can try paragliding, bear-watching tours, mountain biking on a course with a 3,400-foot vertical drop, and Ziptrek tours, in which you dangle in a harness from a cable and fly through the air between platforms high above the forest floor. You can even go snowboarding and skiing on glaciers.
Back at lower altitudes, the villages of Whistler and nearby Blackcomb are as kid-friendly -- and spotless -- as Disney World. They offer a host of activities, from a trapeze and Westcoaster luge -- a kind of sled with wheels that careens down a chute-like track without snow -- to day camps for children and bungee-tethered jumping on trampolines that enable you to soar 25 feet in the air.
BARGAIN WEB DEALS
Whistler can be expensive if you stay at the Westin or the new Four Seasons, which will start taking reservations in mid-June for regular rooms starting at $300 a night and two-bedroom suites at $900 to $1,800 a night. A la carte activities are also pricey -- $150 for a round of golf at courses by Robert Trent Jones or Jack Nicklaus. A guided canoe tour is about $50 a person.
But the budget-minded have options, too. Last August my family and some friends -- four adults and four children altogether -- got a package deal through the whistler-blackcomb.com Web site that cut costs substantially. A three-bedroom condo spacious enough for all of us plus tickets for everyone for a guided canoe trip, gondola ride up Whistler, miniature golf, and Westcoaster luge came to under $150 per family per night for four nights. Prices this year may be slightly higher because the U.S. dollar is weaker.
Whistler's restaurants offer the cosmopolitan variety of Vancouver. My kids enjoyed Tandoori Grill's Indian fare. If parents take advantage of the Whistler-supervised Kids Night Out program, the adults can check out Rimrock Café, which specializes in seafood, Bearfoot Bistro's expensive European cuisine and highly rated wine list, or the more moderately priced Trattoria di Umberto.
My 11-year-old son and 7-year-old daughter still chatter about the trip. The highlight for my son was kayaking on a river and learning from the guide about the area's animals and water life. My daughter's favorites: playing in the snow of a glacier in August and hanging by her knees on a trapeze. We'll be back.
By Stan Crock